Steven Brault dazzles with complete game as Pirates beat Cardinals, snap losing streak

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PITTSBURGH — A second after the pitch popped Jacob Stallings’ mitt, Steven Brault walked toward the home dugout at PNC Park, screamed and pumped his left fist in excitement. Brault had just registered his sixth strikeout of the night, freezing Cardinals designated hitter Brad Miller on a four-seam fastball, and it clearly meant something extra to the Pirates pitcher.

As it should have.

In this season full of frustration, moments like this have been exceedingly rare for Pirates starting pitchers, who came into Thursday’s game having delivered just two quality starts in 48 games, four times making it through six innings. One — Trevor Williams on Aug. 5 against the Twins — went seven.

But as the Pirates opened a five-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, Brault came through in a big way, pitching the first complete game of his major league career and the best Pittsburgh has gotten out of any of its starters this season en route to a 5-1 victory.

The win snapped an eight-game losing streak for the Pirates, who improved their season record to 15-34.

Brault allowed just two hits and one earned run over nine innings. He walked two, struck out eight and retired the final 16 men he faced. The left-hander threw 110 pitches, 65 for strikes.

The success for Brault came with a diverse pitch mix. He threw his four-seamer 34% of the time; his change-up 31%; his slider 18%; and his sinker 14%. After averaging more than 20 pitches per inning, Brault was also extremely efficient with his pitches, living in and around the strike zone and inducing plenty of early contact.

The contact was also relatively weak, as the Cardinals hit just three balls that would be classified as hard-hit — 95-plus mph — and two of them resulted in outs.

Brault’s previous high for innings pitched was seven, which came Aug. 17, 2019 against the Cubs. Thursday marked the fourth time he worked more than six innings in a game.

The Pirates offense took advantage of what turned out to be a bullpen game for the Cardinals after starter Dakota Hudson left two innings into his start with right elbow tightness. The big hit came in the fourth: a three-run homer for Gregory Polanco against left-hander Austin Gomber.

Polanco has battled slumps this entire season and came into Thursday’s game in another sizable one, with no hits in his past five games and just two in his previous 36 at-bats.

But with two outs and the Pirates looking to capitalize on back-to-back walks to start the inning, Polanco flashed his tantalizing potential with one swing of the bat.

Getting a 2-2 slider from Gomber, Polanco drove it 407 feet at 109.3 mph that gave the Pirates a 3-1 lead. After Kevin Newman singled, Stallings got another hanging breaking ball — this one a curveball — and drove it for a run-scoring double.

The Pirates added to their lead in the bottom of the fifth, as Ke’Bryan Hayes led off with a double, went to second on Colin Moran’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly from Josh Bell. Hayes has now hit safely in 11 of his first 14 big league games.

Brault retired the first seven he faced before issuing a one-out walk to right fielder Rangel Ravelo in the third. Second baseman Kolten Wong and third baseman Tommy Edman followed with singles, the latter on a first-pitch slider that Edman lined up the middle for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

A terrific defensive play from Hayes came next. The third baseman fielded a grounder from shortstop Paul DeJong, simultaneously stepped on the bag and fired a hard throw across the diamond. Bell picked Hayes up by tagging DeJong.


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